Mayor livid over minister's comments

The Willingdon lands, site of the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre, have been sold. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
The Willingdon lands, site of the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre, have been sold.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan is demanding an apology after a B.C. cabinet minister suggested it was the city's own fault that it lost out in its efforts to purchase the Willingdon lands.

Last week, the province announced it had sold the 16-hectare (40-acre) property on the southwest corner of Willingdon Avenue and Canada Way for $57.9 million to the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

The sale is part of a move by the provincial government to sell off surplus land to help balance its budget.

Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services Minister Andrew Wilkinson told the NewsLeader Monday that the government had an obligation to first consult with relevant First Nations on the property's sale. And while Burnaby city hall was granted an exclusive period to do its due diligence, when that timeframe expired, the First Nations offered to buy it at the full appraised market value.

Burnaby "had ample opportunity to come to commercial terms on the deal and make an offer and they didn't do that," Wilkinson said.

That's not the case, said Corrigan, who added that "ignorance and arrogance are a bad combination."

The city was in fact told by the province that under its policies and protocols, it has to give B.C. First Nations the right of first refusal before it sells provincial Crown lands.

"They told us the lands could become unavailable for sale to the city as a result of First Nations interest," he said. "And then [Wilkinson] said that we waited too long for the bid. Completely incorrect and misleading."

Burnaby city hall was informed on Sept. 3 that real estate company Colliers International was authorized to work with the city until Nov. 30, he said. Before the exclusivity period ended, the ministry told Burnaby that the province had not yet completed its consultations with First Nations. And it couldn't put the land up for sale until that process was completed.

Despite that, city staff continued doing studies and getting an independent property value appraisal to ensure Burnaby would be ready to buy it at the first opportunity.

"In fact, the Ministry of Technology, Innovation, and Services also agreed to reimburse us for all the costs related to independent studies and appraisals … Then suddenly on March 5th we were told the negotiations with First Nations would be extended and they wouldn't accept our offer or bid until that process was concluded."

The next city staff heard, the province called saying the property had been sold.

"And he's in there saying we snoozed? The arrogance and the ignorance of that statement is unparalleled," Corrigan said.

"The minister owes us an apology. It was his own staff that had taken us down the garden path."

Corrigan said Wilkinson's comments suggest he never looked at the file or didn't ask any questions to find out why Burnaby didn't make an offer for the land.

"I'm surprised. I know he's a rookie MLA and a rookie minister, but I'm surprised at his incompetence," he said.

"The fact is I thought we acted very nicely considering the circumstances. And for him to try to rub our nose in it is ridiculous."

The province was in a rush to get the land off its books in order to balance its budget before its fiscal year end on March 31, he added.

"So he's talking about who's doing things improperly," he said of Wilkinson. "Who sells their property to balance their budget?"

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